I not so much woke up, more opened my bleary eyes after a night of unrest. I’m not sure why this was the case, as I’d slept reasonably well in comparison in the last night train we’d been on. But alas, it was 4:30 in the morning, the train was showing down, and fairly soon it was time to wake up and smell the pungent aromas of Ho Chi Minh City.
We all piled into the bus without speed or enthusiasm. We reached our hotel and checked into day rooms, and thankfully this one was a step up from the place we stayed in Nha Trang. We rotated through showering and getting freshened up (day rooms were always shared with others from the group), and soon enough (or not), the restaurant was open for breakfast. Breakfast was okay, though I can’t say much can be appreciated when you’re tired. Well, coffee can be, and I downed about 4 of them before heading back downstairs to face the day.
Today we had the option of going to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where the Viet Cong held out against the Americans for a long time during the war. This was an interesting experience, not only because of what we saw and what they accomplished, but also the propagandist spin that we received. It also sound rather pro-Cong, which was quite opposed to the viewpoint of our guide from My Son, Mr Van.
Before we got there, we stopped at a local house. Here we learned how to make rice paper, and even got to try doing it ourselves. This is not traditionally a man’s job, but I gave it a go anyway, and discovered I wasn’t too bad at it. At this house was also a garden and a pig farm. We got to feed the pigs, which were particularly large, and also got to see the piglets although they really didn’t liked to be picked up.
What I found quite fascinating was learning how a pineapple grows. I’ve always had the mistaken impression that a pineapple just grows on a tree, whereas the reality is that the pineapple is the single flower of its own low-growing plant.
The entire area around the house, for miles around, was a rubber plantation. The plantation is wholly owned by the government, and any attempt to steal sap could get you shot. It is okay however to collect the seeds and plant your own rubber tree, and this house had a couple of their own trees, so we were able to see how rubber tree sap is collected.
At the tunnels, we got to see a lot of the kinds of traps that the Viet Cong used during the war, and also got to crawl through some section of tunnel as well. Some took one look at the tunnel entrance and Noped the hell out of there. I gave it a go, and opted to attempt the full 100 metres. I was at the back, and I think that if I’d had somebody come up behind me I might have experienced some amount of claustrophobia. Thankfully I didn’t get to test this theory.
After this traipse through the tunnels we were offered some tea and the cooked root of a plant called Cassava. You might better recognise this as tapioca, which is the name given to a particular form of extract from this plant. In Africa another name is given - Makihot.
Went made our way back to the city, and met our guide at Pho 2000, where we would follow in the steps of Bill Clinton and have a lunch of Pho. I don’t have much to compare this to, but I think the Pho was pretty good. Street lunch we went back to the hotel to collect the few people who didn’t come to the tunnels, and headed out for a city tour.
We visited the War Remnants Museum, which had a fair few military vehicles outside, including tanks, and Chinook and an F-5A fighter jet. There was also a collection of the sort of bombs used throughout the war.
Inside the museum was a different story. In the first floor were evidence of outage from citizens of all countries against the Americans war in Vietnam. I took my time to get around the exhibits, and so didn’t get up the the top floor, but I did get to the second.
On the second floor, on one side were graphic images and stories, either from survivors or from journalists who accompanied the American troops. Survivors were few, and according to the exhibits, all Vietnamese in all villages were treated as Viet Cong. Women and children were all killed, not just men.
On the other side of the second floor was an exhibition of images and statistics regarding the impact of Agent Orange and other harmful chemicals used throughout the war, most of which contained the very harmful Dioxin. In a way this was worse than all the outright murder of many people, due to the ongoing effects of poisoning the land and the people. Dioxin not only affects those initially poisoned with it, but through severe genetic mutation also affects their offspring, and their offsprings offspring.
With all this weighing down heavy, and even more distaste for the Americans, we headed onwards to our next destination - the reunification palace. We only looked in from outside the gate, but you could see that it was built with some grandeur, and the style was still rather modern despite its age. We continued on a walkabout tour, visiting a catholic church with French inspiration in the architecture, then across the road to the old post office building, which was in fact still in use, and I finally found a fee-free ATM within.
After some rest and recuperation time at the hotel (and swapping into our night rooms), we headed out to dinner to a place that specialises in pancakes (Vietnamese pancakes are savoury). Aside from being fried, you could probably call these pancakes quite healthy, as they’re made with rice flour, water and egg, so also great for those who eat gluten free. In Vietnam, you don’t just eat a fried spring roll or a pancake by itself, instead you roll it up into a lettuce or cabbage leaf before dipping into the dipping sauce.
Unfortunately we were due for another early morning, so now if us were about to hit the bar. We all slunk off to bed to get as much sleep as we could.